Have you thought about what will happen to your digital legacy when you die? You might have prepared a Will to deal with your investments and property, but have you considered what will happen to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, blogs and avatars? Not many people have. Your Will deals with your material wealth but it won’t deal with your virtual existence on the internet. If you engage in social media, you will undoubtedly leave a digital legacy behind.
The law on digital assets and what happens upon death is gathering speed in the UK. It is behind many other countries which have brought in laws to deal with these things. The State of Delaware passed a law in 2014 giving a “digital executor” or “digital heir” the same powers over digital assets as an executor would have over physical assets. But there is no such law in the UK.
Facebook “memorialises” a deceased person’s page when they are made aware of the death. The deceased person’s page is frozen, but it is still visible. They introduced a facility in July last year to allow Facebook users to appoint a “legacy contact” who would be able to post a message to appear at the top your timeline when you die, change cover and profile photos. But they won’t be able to change anything on your page that already exists.
Twitter exercises its discretion when dealing with the account of a deceased user and will work with the executors of the Will and the deceased’s family to remove images of the deceased or close the account down, if it is appropriate. But it would take someone from the deceased’s family to instigate any action.
It might be worth considering whether it is within the skills-set of your executor to deal with your digital legacy. They will need to be quite technologically savvy and have patience to deal with various organisations. You might like to consider appointing a “digital executor” as well as an ordinary executor, specifically to deal with your digital assets.
Perhaps one solution would be to make a note of all of your usernames and passwords and leave them alongside your Will for your executor when you die. (Don’t put them in your Will because it becomes a public document after it is proved at the Probate Registry). But this puts your executor in a difficult legal position – he could be breaking the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
There will undoubtedly be developments in this area of law over the next few years. Expect your solicitor to ask you about your digital legacy next time you update your Will. In the meantime, have a think about your virtual existence and the digital legacy you will leave. Unless you put arrangements in place, it could live on forever.